Preply’s Daniele Saccardi provides insight into the technological evolution of language learning
Once upon a time, screens acted as cold partitions from the warmth of others.
However, they have become an integral part of our daily lives and offer us the possibility of
connect with people we wouldn’t have otherwise. The arrival of Covid-19 has also seen a
increased use of video platforms as educational tools. The children attended school in
their living rooms and students graduated from their beds.
Language learning in particular has benefited from the transition to digital platforms in a way
that other subjects do not have. Online video software has provided a platform for people in the
UK to access native speakers as far away as Japan. Distance is no longer an object in
access native speakers of a learner’s target language.
The Ukrainian startup Preply has invested considerable time in the development of
their own digital platform for teaching languages - and it’s paying off, with the company
experiencing considerable growth.
We spoke with Preply campaign manager Daniele Saccardi about how language
the learning sector has evolved over the past decade and how the pandemic has influenced the
transition to digital learning:
Learning a language used to be about memorizing vocabulary and understanding
grammatical theory. However, the world has adapted to a new communicative approach,
emphasizing the importance of being able to express oneself and share information in
target language. Not only is this approach more practical, as it allows the learner to begin
oral practice immediately, it is also beneficial for improving confidence, motivation and
Language learning technology has evolved to accommodate this communicative approach and adapt
in an increasingly small world. A far cry from the days of the software DVDs we used in the beginning
part of the century, we now have access to a variety of digital tools, such as mobile
video conferencing applications and platforms. The obligation to stay at home for
the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the use of these conferencing platforms and
opened up opportunities for students despite their geographical location. Although I believe
that we would have started relying more on technology in education, the pandemic definitely
acted as a catalyst to trigger this transition earlier.
Apps, such as Memrise and Anki, aim to provide students with key vocabulary by turning
memorization in a game. These apps are great assistive tools to complete
more formal learning, but can also be used as a standalone platform to learn the basics.
Some of the downsides of these apps are dehumanization and lack of deeper knowledge.
understanding because of their surface-level approach. Technology can only take us so far forward
help from native speakers is needed. Without communicating with native speakers,
learners are also deprived of learning colloquialisms and culture. What Preply does is bring
combine technological advances with humans, in order to bridge the gap between the
two and to provide a more complete and personal learning experience. Our tutors are
versed in merging these two faces of language learning, allowing them to focus
on establishing a bond with their students and adapting the teaching to their particularities
The future of language learning technology is looking bright and it’s worth watching this space
for advancements in AI technologies. At the moment, the AI is limited to “spaced repetition”, i.e.
that the same word is repeated at regular intervals to improve memorization. However, there is
are endless possibilities on how AI can be integrated into language learning technologies in
in order to improve the user experience. One such suggestion that I am aware of is the use of
chatbots that respond to your messages with personalized responses and can even provide
feedback on your performance. Although this is convenient and can provide learners
more confidence to make mistakes without being judged, I still strongly believe that
conversations with native speakers cannot be replaced due to the cultural basis of
learn a language.
At Preply, we understand that each student has different requirements and therefore we use
technology to complement and assist our teaching to varying degrees depending on the
student. The increased use of video conferencing platforms has opened up the world to
opportunities beyond the classroom and we are proud to be part of the ever-evolving
transition to blended learning.
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